When is the next Covid travel update, and what can we expect to change?

Advice

All fully vaccinated adults travelling to the UK are currently required to take a pre-departure test, a Day 2 PCR test and to self-isolate until they receive a negative result for the second test. Unvaccinated travellers face tougher restrictions. The regulations differ slightly for children depending on their age. However, testing can add hundreds of pounds to the price of a family holiday. 

The UK’s tougher testing stipulations have been in place since December 7; an update is due on January 5.

The last travel update was delivered on December 14 and saw 11 southern African countries removed from the red list, including South Africa and Namibia. It was confirmed that travel measures would be reviewed in early January. Previously, an announcement was made every three weeks.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “We remain focused on meeting our booster target for all adults by the end of the year, and while we will keep our travel testing measures in place for now, we will review this position in the first week of January.”

Ahead of the travel review,  Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in the Covid update on January 4 that Britain can “ride out the omicron wave” without the need for a nationwide lockdown. 

The decision not to push for further domestic restrictions could be a positive signal for travel. 

Mr Johnson also said, while discussing the booster roll-out, that some countries were already adding booster jabs to their entry requirements. 

Testing and red list changes are top of the agenda in the latest update. However, swift updates to the border and lockdown rules of other countries may further hamper or rule out travel plans – as those who’ve planned a ski holiday this winter have discovered. 

France currently permits travel from the UK for essential reasons only, while Germany requires Britons to take a PCR test before travel in addition to meeting vaccination requirements. On-the-ground testing and vaccine pass rules may also impact a foreign holiday. Many other destinations have tightened their borders following the discovery, and spread of, omicron. 

It should also be noted that travel rules are not necessarily UK-wide. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can decide on differing regulations. That said, they have largely remained the same across the four nations.

What changes can we expect in the latest update?

Pre-departure tests for travel to the UK could be axed following the January 5 update.

A number of senior figures in the Government are pushing for this test requirement to be dropped, with ministers insisting that the rapid spread of the omicron variant has made it pointless.  

Day 2 PCRs, and the requirement to self-isolate until testing negative, could also be reconsidered. 

Before the tightening of testing rules in early December, a lateral flow test on or before day two (with the arrival day being day zero) was deemed sufficient – and no self-isolation requirement was in place for fully vaccinated adults or under-18s.

Additions to the red list seem unlikely – the UK’s own high infection rates should rule this out. Keep in mind that the red category was initially introduced as a mitigation against “variants of concern”. The quarantine hotel policy remained in place following the latest review, despite the emptying of the red list. The Government said it was a “crucial line of defence against the importation of variants of concern”.

What are the current rules? 

Testing remains the most significant deterrent to international trips, alongside the potential for a destination country to impose stricter entry rules or a travel ban. Flight cancellations have also caused disruption over the Christmas break. 

All travellers aged 12 or over must take a Covid-19 test (this can be a lateral flow) in the two days before travel to the UK, regardless of vaccination status. Children under 12 are exempt from this test. 

Arrivals aged five or over must take a PCR test on or before Day 2. Under-18s and fully vaccinated adults must self-isolate at their accommodation until they receive a negative result (they can leave to take the test). 

Rules are much stricter for those who are not fully vaccinated. In addition to the pre-departure and Day 2 tests, they must take a test on day eight and self-isolate for 10 days. They can expect to be contacted by NHS Test and Trace to check they are fulfilling their isolation requirements. If their day eight test comes back as negative, they can leave their accommodation after day 10. Travellers to England can also opt to take a test to release on day five. 

All travellers coming to the UK must also complete a passenger locator form before their arrival. Under-18s can be included on the form of an adult staying at the same address. If entering Scotland, only under-16s can be included on an adult’s form. Among the stipulations on this form is providing the code from a booked Day 2 test. 

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